Workplace parity between sexes 'will take 25 years'

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The Independent Online
IT WILL take 25 years to ensure parity between men and women at work, according to the leader of the Opportunity 2000 equal opportunities initiative.

Following criticism of the campaign's progress, Lady Elspeth Howe, chair of the group and former deputy leader of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said people should not expect instant results. 'Press reports pointing out that a year after the campaign's launch only 2 per cent of women are chief executives are just silly.'

Speaking after the publication of a report, Change at the Top, on the need for flexible working at senior levels, she said that a cultural change was required.

Lady Howe pointed out that 150 organisations employing more than a quarter of the British workforce had signed up to Opportunity 2000. It was not possible for them to pay lip service to the campaign as they had to conduct an audit of the positions women occupied and were then required to set ambitious targets.

It was essential that flexible working was extended to senior levels so that women could break through the 'glass ceiling'.

Asked whether she backed the Government's plan to abolish wages councils, which set minimum pay rates for 2.5 million workers - 80 per cent of them women - Lady Howe said there were more important issues as far as equality was concerned.

She said the way forward was through training and the promotion of 'best practice'. That would lead to increases in pay.

Philip Pearson, of the London Wages Rights Campaign, said: 'While Opportunity 2000 is tackling the glass ceiling, the Government is taking a sledge-hammer to smash the glass floor and low- paid women will drop through it.'

At the launch of another report, How Low Can You Get?, at Westminster, Mr Pearson said that 370,000 Londoners - one in eight of the capital's workforce - stood to lose if the Trade Union and Employment Rights Bill went through unamended.

Change at the Top, New Ways to Work, 309 Upper Street, London N1 2TY.

How Low Can You Get? c/o Jan Rebane Centre, 12-14 Thornton Street, London SW9 OBL.